by Marichel Vaught
EAST CALAIS — If you drive toward Hardwick from Montpelier on Route 14, you’ll pass by the East Calais General Store in the heart of the village of East Calais. They carry the typical general store fare — milk, bread, pantry staples, newspapers, cold beverages, ice, candy and even gas, which is handy for the local folks who need to fill up gas cans for lawn mowers or for those who realize their tank is about to hit empty before heading onto back roads. They have their regular customers who come in for their morning coffee and snacks to get them through the day. They have visitors just passing through on their way to the nearby lakes and campsites. They have the folks who stop in on their way home from work to pick up chicken or steak to cook for that night’s dinner. Even the neighborhood dog, Milkshake, comes by during her daily excursions around the village. It’s a meeting place for locals, a school bus stop and where to go to find out what’s happening in town. The environment is relaxed and the staff is incredibly friendly and welcoming. If it’s your first time there, you are greeted like you’ve always been coming in. And if they do know your name, they’ll be sure to use it.
According to Eddie Walbridge, owner of the building that houses the general store, the space has always been some kind of retail spot and has changed ownership several times according to records dating back to the early 1900s. The store itself is currently owned by Lesly LaPan, who bought the business from Walbridge in 2008. LaPan wanted to keep the services to which longtime customers were accustomed, such as stocking canned goods and basic household needs. Listening to her customers, LaPan also added more in the way of prepared foods and specialty items. Alongside national brands, you can find locally grown and produced products. Step back in time to penny candy days with their pay-by-the-pound candy counter. A gift shelf is stocked with fun and unique baubles and trinkets, because you never know when you will need a build-your-own wooden airplane or slingshot. Aside from their deli counter, where you can order almost any kind of sandwich with your choice of toppings and bread, the store offers pre-made cold meals, take-and-heat meals and a hot bar. From time to time, homemade baked goods are available, but they go fast. Who can resist decadent brownies made with three different types of chocolate?
LaPan’s daughter, Darci Herdling, helps manage the store and does most of the cooking. With experience as a line cook and armed with a cache of family recipes, Herdling has created prepared meals that keep customers coming back for more. In the grab-and-go section, you will find potato salad (made according to a recipe from Herdling’s grandmother Rosalie) and Aunt Carrie’s Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad, as well as a variety of other salads, and specialty sandwiches such as the chicken/bacon/cheddar/avocado with ranch dressing on naan bread. The take-and-heat section is where you’ll find American Chop Suey which was Grandmother Rosalie’s goulash recipe and a crowd favorite — a comfort dish with macaroni noodles, ground beef, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic and a tomato sauce that’s a family secret. Herdling also makes a hamburger soup that she remembers always eating with her grandfather “Don Don.” There’s meatloaf (“that was how grandma used to make”), quiches and Chicken Alfredo. Their hot bar offers breakfast sandwiches, burgers, Italian sandwiches and more, all ready to eat. This is just a snippet of what you can find in their fridges and hot case.
LaPan and Herdling are enthusiastic about adding more prepared foods with more options. They’d like to dish up ice cream, brownie sundaes and root beer floats. They hope to offer more home-baked goods. Herdling is even testing gluten-free recipes.
They love the surrounding community, and the community loves them right back. In July, the store said “Thank You” to their customers by hosting a Customer Appreciation Day, during which Herdling grilled over 300 hot dogs and hamburgers. And about 500 homemade cookies and cupcakes were devoured.
They are always looking for suggestions to bring convenience and satisfaction to their customers and want to continue making quality food that is delicious and affordable. Said Herdling, “We want to make our customers happy and keep their bellies full.”
The East Calais General Store is located on Route 14 in the center of East Calais village. They open daily at 6 a.m. During the summer, the store closes at 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends. During the winter, the store closes at 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and at 7 p.m. on Sundays.